Diversity, service and self-care key issues for Sandy resident’s pageant platformJul 01, 2022 09:53AM ● By Heather Lawrence
Heidi Petersen had a happy reunion with her kids in 2019 after she went to Mexico for her multiple sclerosis treatments. Left to right are Savannah Weaver, Heidi Petersen, Sophia Weaver, Darien Weaver. (Heidi Petersen)
By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]
In March, Sandy resident Heidi Petersen competed in her first Mrs. Utah America pageant. She placed in the top 10. Petersen’s win was a bright spot as she recovered from MS treatments and watched society grapple with racial inequality.
“I know there’s sometimes a negative feeling that goes along with pageantry. But as I learned more about this and the Mrs. Prime Pageant that I’m now competing in, I related to the focus on self-care and service to others,” Petersen said.
Petersen grew up in Maryland and spent a lot of time with her grandparents who set an example of service that stuck with her.
“They had an open door policy at their home for people who needed a meal, even though their house was already full with 10 children and 20 foster kids. I really wanted to live my life the way they did theirs,” Petersen said.
Petersen moved to Utah when she was 13 after her mom remarried. “It was culture shock! But I stayed here and married and raised my kids here. Now I’m 48 and an empty nester, so I am starting to think about my legacy,” Petersen said.
The self-care aspect of the pageant hit home for Petersen when she was diagnosed with MS in 2015.
“I wanted to try HSCT, which is a therapy that’s not approved in the U.S., so we had to go to Mexico. It takes about a month and is a reboot of your immune system where they take out your stem cells and then replace them,” Petersen said.
When she got home, she had to isolate for six months. Just when her isolation period was over, COVID hit, and she was back in isolation again.
“I had a lot of time to think and process things. I wanted to challenge myself physically and mentally, and I learned that for me self-care was essential,” Petersen said.
In addition to her self-reflection, she watched as the world went through COVID and dealt with a lot of racial issues. As a Black woman from Maryland, she had some insight into that.
Petersen remembered her mom Deborah Bay competing in the Mrs. Utah USA pageant when she was younger. In the back of her mind, she thought she’d always do the same. She realized that with a pageant comes a platform, and she could spread her message that diversity makes us stronger.
“Race conversations can be hard. I remember in Maryland my friends said I ‘wasn’t Black enough.’ When I moved to Utah, I was a subject of curiosity because there weren’t many Black people here.
“In my MS support group, we come from very different backgrounds, but our foundation is that we support and love each other through our challenges.
“I thought, ‘What would our society be like if we looked at life that way? We can start with what we have in common and build our foundation from there,’” Petersen said.
Her message resonated in the Mrs. Utah America pageant, and when she represented Sandy she won the Mrs. Congeniality award.
As part of her platform, she now is invited to speak at diversity training for businesses, community groups and anyone else who wants to have a conversation about inclusion.
With a pageant checked off her list, she thought she was done. But then she heard about the new Prime Pageant.
“Their approach is very different and is focused on self-love and self-care. The competition is in Orlando in September, and I was selected to compete as Mrs. Utah.
“We make weekly goals to improve our mental and physical health which are part of the scoring criteria. They are certified to give out the Presidential Service Award to contestants who track and turn in enough service hours,” Petersen said.
Going back to her grandparents’ legacy, service is something Petersen is passionate about.
“I hope more pageants move in this direction. As women we take on so much and tend to forget about ourselves. The Prime Pageant connects contestants in weekly Zoom meetings, which I really enjoy,” Petersen said.
Hearing stories from other women and sharing her own gives Petersen hope that society can work through issues, including racially loaded ones.
“I hear about stories like the shooting in Buffalo and I know we still have a lot to talk about. These are not ‘black (lowercase ‘b’) and white’ issues because people are not black and white.
“When I tell my story of diversity, it includes experiencing many things: being a Black woman, from the East Coast, being a mother, being a stepmother, divorcing, remarrying, marrying into active military, being in a mixed-race relationship, living with chronic illness, giving service—all of these make me who I am,” Petersen said.
Her website, www.Heidifordiversity.com, has specifics on her availability to tell her story and facilitate these conversations as a Diversity and Inclusion speaker. But she said real change will only come if we have honest conversations starting with our kids.
“My husband, my three kids and my two step-kids have all made me a better person. My husband has encouraged me from the day we got married to do what I need to do to be a stronger and better person.
“Our family has had challenges, but we’ve stuck together through it,” she said. “When I look back and see where I am today, I couldn’t have done it without my family.”